Thursday, May 26, 2011

Libyan premier says he's ready to talk

's government has pushed a ceasefire proposal and said for the first time it is prepared to speak with its rebel adversaries, signaling months of fighting and NATO bombardment may be closer to forcing some concessions.

Even so, the government has insisted Muammar Gadahfi will not relinquish power, which he has held for more than 40 years.

His departure is a key demand of the United States, European leaders and the rebels, who say they will not consider halting more than three months of fighting until Gadahfi goes.
Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi

"The leader, Muammar Gadahfi, is in the heart of every Libyan. If he leaves, the entire Libyan people leave," Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi said today.
He told reporters in the Libyan capital he was willing to hold talks with "all Libyans", including members of the rebel administration based in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Officials from Gadahfi's regime said before they would not speak to the rebel government, arguing it did not represent Libyans.

Al-Mahmoudi did not outline the government's latest ceasefire proposal in detail, but emphasized NATO must be a party to it, not just the rebels.

He would not say whether the government would meet NATO's demands to return its military forces to their barracks.

"Libya is serious about a ceasefire. But that means a halt for all parties, in particular NATO," al-Mahmoudi said.

"Any ceasefire needs its own special arrangements between technical and military people. Everything will be discussed once we have a ceasefire."

The White House dismissed the proposal as not credible.

US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said such offers must be backed up by action.

National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes

He said the Libyan government is not complying with the UN resolution that authorized the international military operation to protect the Libyan people from forces loyal to Gadahfi.

He said the effort to drive Gadahfi from power would continue.

The UN resolution called for an immediate ceasefire. The Gadahfi government unilaterally announced several truces in the past but did not adhere to them.

Libyan officials argue they cannot conduct a one-sided ceasefire and say all parties - NATO and the rebels included - must simultaneously halt their fire.

Al-Mahmoudi sent a letter to European governments seeking their backing for the latest proposal.

One of the nations that received it, Spain, responded by saying that it and the rest of the 27-nation European Union are insisting Gadahfi's government take certain steps first, a Spanish government spokesman said today.

He did not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government rules.

Spain is one of the NATO allies taking part in the international air campaign in support of the rebels.

The British newspaper The Independent said today it obtained a copy of al-Mahmoudi's letter and it proposed an immediate ceasefire to be monitored by the UN and the African Union.

It also called for unconditional talks with the opposition, amnesty for both sides in the conflict and the drafting of a new constitution, according to the newspaper.

"We are prepared to speak to the social and popular leaders that represent Libya ... whether in the (rebel) council or a popular leader," al-Mahmoudi said at today's news conference.

"We are ready to sit with all Libyans around one table. All Libyans feel that the time has come for discussions to deal all the developments."

Al-Mahmoudi said the NATO strikes would not make the government "kneel" and that there was no military solution.

Libya's rebel administration repeated its insistence that before any ceasefire can be considered, Gadahfi's regime must respond to the demands in the UN resolution.

Besides a ceasefire, the resolution calls for an end to attacks on civilians, unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance and talks on a solution that responds to "the legitimate demands of the Libyan people".

Nevertheless, the rebels appeared to welcome the diplomatic movement.
Council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga

The deputy leader of the rebel's National Transitional Council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, said that "political processes are under way to negotiate ways for his (Gadahfi's) exit, so in our opinion it is a matter of time for this process to come to a critical conclusion".

Asked about missing American journalist Matthew VanDyke, the Libyan prime minister said he was not in the government's custody and he had no other information.

The 31-year-old freelance reporter from Baltimore last spoke with his family on March 12, saying he was heading to the eastern oil town of Brega.

"All journalists that were in our custody and detention have been released," al-Mahmoudi said. "There are no journalists detained or imprisoned in Libyan custody. If he is in another place - God knows - but with us, we have no journalists."

Meanwhile, splits emerged within Libya's rebel movement over a timetable for a transition to democracy.

Ghoga announced on Wednesday that it could take up to two years to organize elections, backtracking on promises of a six-month transition to democracy and adding to the internal dissent that has been brewing.

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